Food & Drink
Considered by many as one of the most dynamic islands in Indonesia, Bali has a
fiery cuisine that matches the nature of its enigmatic folk, and one that is guar-
anteed to speed up the metabolism and have your blood flowing like the Sungai
Ayung in the wet season! While the cuisine of Bali has remained a mystery to
visitors for years (and it's still easy to eat Western cuisine for every meal, if that's
your preference), times are changing. Balinese food is now more accessible than
ever - be it on street corners or in restaurants frequented by tourists.
The finest Balinese food is found spilling out of even simple Balinese kitchens
in your average village compound. It is here that the family cook takes the time
to roast the coconut until the smoky sweetness kisses your nose, grinds the
spices diligently to form the perfect paste and perhaps even makes fresh fragrant
coconut oil in which to fry them. And when I say kitchen, don't for one minute
imagine a stainless-steel work place with a fridge, oven and cupboards stacked
with plates and cups. The favoured Balinese kitchen has a wood-fired oven that
is fuelled by bamboo and sometimes even coffee wood that creates a smoky
sweetness and wonderful flavour that modern cookers cannot reproduce.
Compared with other Indonesian islands, Balinese food is more pun-
gent and lively. The biting note of fresh gingers is matched by the heat of
raw chillies, shrimp paste, palm sugar and tamarind. There is nothing shy
about this cuisine and it is certainly not as sweet and subtle as the food of
the neighbouring island of Java. But there is more to it than that - there is
a multitude of layers that make the complete dish. A meal will contain the
six flavours (sweet, sour, spicy, salty, bitter and astringent), which in turn
promote health, vitality and stimulate the senses.
There are shades of South-Indian, Malaysian and Chinese flavours in
Balinese food. It has evolved from years of cross-cultural cook-ups and
trading with seafaring pioneers and perhaps even pirates, across the seas of
Asia. The idea that you should only eat what is native to the soil doesn't apply
in this part of the world, because even the humble chilli was introduced by
the fearless Portuguese, along with a plethora of other colourful, edible ex-
otica from the New World. In true Balinese-style, the village chefs selected
the finest and perhaps most durable new ingredients and adapted them to
the local tastes and cooking-styles of the people.
Like Malaysian and Peranakan cooking, Balinese cuisine has a predomi-
nance of turmeric, ginger, chilli and coconut flavours, and shares many simi-
lar dishes with its South-east Asian neighbours. Other native ingredients such
as the beloved candlenut, galangal and musk lime are fundamental to the cui-
sine of this region, as is the elegant, alluring lemongrass. Indian-style spices
such as cinnamon, cardamom and cumin are seldom used in Bali. Emphasis
is on the combination of fresh gingers, balanced by the complex sweetness of
palm sugar, tamarind and shrimp paste along with the clean fresh flavours
of lime-scented lemongrass, lime leaves and coriander seeds.
Bali has also become a place where global cuisines meet. Once famous only
for its jaffles and black-rice pudding, Bali has become a culinary nirvana,
offering the best of Indian, Moroccan, Italian, Chinese, Japanese, French,
fusion and, of course, Indonesian food.
STAPLES & SPECIALITIES
The Food of Bali by Heinz
von Holzen and Lother
Arsana brings to life
everything from cram
cam (clear chicken soup
with shallots) to bubuh
injin (black-rice pudding).
Von Holzen's books also
include a forthcoming
one on Balinese markets.
A bowl of cooked
kangkung (water spinach)
for dinner is guaranteed
to give you a good nights'
sleep as it is full of